On Israel's Election Day, Dutch Court to Consider War Crimes Case Against Gantz

The suit seeks compensation for the deaths six members of Gazan-born Dutch citizen's family in Israel's 2014 war with Gaza; the army says the building served as a Hamas war room

Kahol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz.
Olivier Fitoussi

A Dutch district court will hold a hearing regarding a case against Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz involving alleged crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza war on the same day that Israelis head to the polls in Israel's election.

The hearing seeks to determine whether the court has jurisdiction to consider a civil suit filed by a Gaza-born Dutch citizen, Ismail Ziada, against Gantz and a co-defendant. The suit seeks compensation for the deaths of six members of Ziada's family and a seventh person during Israel's 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

Gantz was the chief of staff of the Israeli army at the time. His co-defendant, Amir Eshel, was the commander of the Israel Air Force. The suit claims that Gantz and Eshel are liable for the bombing of Ziada's family’s home in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza and for the deaths Ziada's mother, three siblings, a sister-in-law and a nephew. A guest on the scene during the air raid was also killed.

The Israeli army said the building that the air force bombed served as a Hamas war room and that four members of the Hamas military wing and Islamic Jihad along with three civilians were killed in the attack. The Military Advocate General's office said it met standards of proportionality and necessity. Ziada's lawyer said in response that only one of those killed was a Hamas member, and was not active in the group.

Next week's hearing is on a motion filed by Gantz and Eshel's lawyer seeking to have the suit dismissed on the grounds that the Dutch district court in The Hague does not have jurisdiction in the matter.

The former Israeli military leaders' lawyer is claiming that the Israeli court system is accessible to Palestinians, and that in any event, Gantz and Eshel cannot be sued unless the killings were carried out deliberately or with disregard for the consequences, because the deaths occurred in the context of their official duties.

Ziada's suit alleges that Israeli courts do not afford him a genuine opportunity for a fair hearing in the deaths, which he says constitute war crimes. The lawsuit relies on the concept of universal jurisdiction in Dutch law that is accorded to those who have no opportunity to have their claims adjudicated elsewhere.

The killing of the Ziada family received wide attention after Henk Zenoli, a relative of Ismail Ziada’s wife, returned an award in protest that he had received from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority. Zenoli and his mother had saved a Jewish child, Elhanan Pinto, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.